Whilst their respective press offices work hard to spin those diplomatic gaffe stories off the front pages, the Prime Minister’s and the Queen’s very public trip-ups this week show the world the British press don’t mind scoring an own goal.
David Cameron’s aside has probably caused the most offense. He was overheard telling the Queen that “some fantastically corrupt countries.” were due to attend the anti-corruption summit, singling out Nigeria and Afghanistan as “possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world.” Whilst the Queen was caught on camera saying Chinese officials were “very rude” to the British ambassador during President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the U.K. in October. (Full story)
The PM may have been making sarcastic small talk but what’s alarming about these unguarded and unflattering remarks about other nations, whether intentional or not, is the suggestion of top down imperial snobbery in Britain. It’s right our institutions of power should champion the UK but what feels wrong here is the sense of superiority.
But the idea of Britain as a global beacon is a rather misplaced, we’re rarely top of the best country rankings.
So how do our political institutions get over themselves? They are well known for giving (or exerting) – in terms of cultural influence (language, the arts, democracy) but how good are they at receiving? Are these summits and state visits a cultural exchange or a cultural investiture in all ways British? How much effort do they really put into understanding (rather than telling) the rest of the world?
Well here’s a suggestion; send for some artists and receive some cultural diplomacy. A political term denoting soft power – this is an “exchange of ideas, information, art and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understanding.” In essence “cultural diplomacy reveals the soul of a nation,” which in turn creates influence (cultural diplomacy.org).
Cultural diplomacy is about understanding over dominance, communication over political might. Though often overlooked, cultural diplomacy is said to play an important role in improving global communication.
How does this work in practice? Here’s some recommendations for the PM this weekend;
Film: Foreign films that promote cultural diplomacy. A staple of arthouse cinema, more mainstream complexes could do much more to attract audiences to non-Hollywood fare. “Film has served as one of the most influential and accessible mediums of cultural diplomacy and it has had a unique ability to effect “the masses” all around the world”(cultural diplomacy.org)
Similarly Film festivals have been found to offer good cultural exchange and promote understanding. So why not hot foot it over to this year’s Cannes Film Festival? “This is a major event, both from an artistic perspective as well in terms of the economy of the film industry and is a powerful tool for promoting and enhancing the attractiveness of France.” http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr
TV: BBC4 probably started the trend with Scandi-Noir shows like The Killing and The Bridge but much more quality drama from around the globe is now available on TV. (And arguably, a really important way to get British audiences to see the contemporary world)
Channel 4 online has now started it’s own stream;
Walter Presents (Channel 4) – a selection of what it bills as the best foreign-language drama series from around the world. Entire box sets, all completely free, when you want them.
BBC WORLDWIDE – A global voice and an under appreciated resource? Here you can hear stories from all around the world every single day.
BBC Radio 4 offers an eclectic mix of programmes looking at different cultures (mainly from a British perspective though). The latest offering is The Global Philosopher. An interesting experiment in radio/global programming. The programme uses a state-of-the-art studio at the Harvard Business School in Boston, to allow people around the world to come together for a discussion. Presented by Michael Sandel.
A long list of books for cultural understanding. A note here, cultural literature is as good as the translation (same goes for subtitles on film/tv – the translation can really make or break the viewing experience)
And don’t miss out on EUROVISION: 2016 Grand Final on 14 May 2016 at 8pm on BBC1
The Eurovision Song Contest. Our national instinct is to bash this annual Euro bash. But it has good intentions at heart (it was set up to rebuild and reintegrate Europe after the 2nd World War) and the 200 million people who will be watching can’t be wrong..
Here’s how to find some cultural understanding – The Swedish Ambassador’s Guide to Eurovision
(If you’re still not convinced – watch for the spectacle, the TV studio production is usually excellent)
Once, sarcastic cultural comments got us a laugh,now they show we’re out of step. Time instead to brush up and put on a more informed face for the world.